Jesus never stole from the cookie jar. He never disobeyed. He never fussed out his sister. So Mary and Joseph must have had it easy when it came to raising him, right? Not quite. In this message, Stephen reminds us why raising a perfect child is much more difficult than raising an imperfect one.
Parenting the Perfect Child
If you combine the Gospel accounts, you discover 8 scenes that reveal truths surrounding Christ’s birth and boyhood.
- The first scene is His birth outdoors in a stable and the shepherds who came with their amazing story of angels who had announced the Savior’s birth – Luke 2:7-20
- The second scene takes place when Jesus is 8 days old, as He is circumcised and identified with the covenant family of Abraham – Luke 2:21
- The third scene is a month later where Mary and Joseph took their month and ½ old boy to the temple to present Him to God, according to the law; in this same scene we observe Mary bringing the offering of the poor, it was called, 2 birds as offerings to atone for her own uncleanness that, according to the law, came with childbirth – Luke 2:22-24
- The fourth scene is in the family living room, in a house in Bethlehem where Jesus, now a toddler, and Mary receive a surprising visit from wise men – king anointers as they were known in their homeland of Persia – Matthew 2:11-12
- Soon after this visit, scene five opens with Joseph and Mary escaping as fugitives to Egypt; running for their lives in the middle of the night to avoid the death edict pronounced by Herod on Bethlehem boys in his attempt to kill the King of the Jews – Matthew 2:13-15
- Scene number six shows Joseph and Mary, less than 2 years later returning with Jesus to Nazareth to live, since Herod had died – Matthew 2:19-23
- Scene seven sweeps us into the Temple where 12 year old Jesus is asking and answering questions with the religious leaders. It is in this scene where God the Father has revealed to Jesus His divine paternity – that God the Father is uniquely His Father – Luke 2:41-49
- Scene eight is the longest scene of all – it will last 18 years in Nazareth as Jesus Christ grows from the age of 12 to around 30, where He will eventually step into the public square and announce He is more than the son of a carpenter – Luke 2:52
As far as the record of scripture goes, this particular scene is silent. In fact, we are only given one brief verse to tell us, in general, what was happening in the life of Christ as he grew into adulthood.
You’ll find that brief verse in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 2 and verse 52.
Just one verse that categorically summarizes what happened in that little village called Nazareth.
Luke writes, And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (2:52)
By the way, this is normal language for the growth of not just God the Son. In the Old Testament account of young Samuel’s growth, the text is similar and it reads, “Now the boy Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men .” (1 Samuel 2:26)
In Luke’s account of John the Baptizer’s growth as a little boy, Luke writes in chapter 1 and verse 80, and the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit . . .”
If you look back at chapter 2 and verse 40, Luke writes of young Jesus, “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
When you arrive at Luke chapter 2 and verse 52, you enter a scene that provides even more mystery than every regarding the boyhood of Jesus.
Some would believe that Jesus had all the wisdom He needed and never increased in that attribute or any attribute for that matter.
Luke informs us that Jesus advanced – He increased in three ways – and he uses three nouns and you might circle in your text: He increased in wisdom, stature and favor.
I would agree with Lenski that these nouns are datives of relation, and the imperfect tense – Jesus kept increasing – tells us not only that this progress continued but, there was more to follow. / R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Augsburg Publishing House, 1946), p. 170
The truth is, we find it hard to believe that Jesus ever developed in any way.
Being the perfect child must have meant that His development was already perfected. But that would have violated the human nature He had and the normal boy that he was, yet without sin.
But the truth is, it would have been possible for Jesus to do something unwise without sinning. Being unwise is not the same thing as sin.
Aren’t you glad about that?
Luke informs us here that Jesus, as 100% human, had to progress for immaturity to maturity. . . from silliness to sobriety . . . from naivete to discernment; from uninformed actions that made dumb or even dangerous decisions as little boys and girls can do – to informed action.
Jesus was not God humanized or a human deified. The mystery of the incarnation is that He, being 100% God, became 100% human as well.
Jesus caught a cold like every child developing their immune system. His nose ran and he sneezed. He stubbed his toe, smashed his finger, might have needed a nightlight too.
And as He grew, he would fight temptation like any young man – and never fail once.
The author of scripture didn’t want us to miss this. He was tempted in every point just like we are – yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
Discover the implications of this and you discover someone who can understand exactly how you feel.
Discuss this with someone who ignores the implications and they’re already bored.
Yea, yea, God became a man. But they’re thinking all along that Jesus was running around Nazareth – he had a robe on like all the other boys, but underneath was a superman suit – the bullets would only bounce off His chest . . . nothing could ever hurt Jesus.
But that’s not the truth of the incarnation.
He would have scratched his knees playing with the village children just like they did; he would burned his tongue on hot cider until He learned better; He got cold when it was cold and got hot and sweaty when he played or worked with His step-father in the shop.
Do you know what this means? He knew what it was like to be under parental authority; He knew what it was like to be 16 years old – He knew what it was like to be a 30 year old single.
I love the inspired choice of verb for Christ’s growth and development. In my text it is translated, “Jesus kept increasing.”
The word is prokopto (prokoptw) – you could render it, to advance. / Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament(Regency, 1976), p. 145
It isn’t a word for just any old advancement. The word carries the idea of “making headway” or “forging ahead.” / Gerhard Kittel, editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume (Eerdmans, 1985), p. 939
One Greek scholar says this verb can refer to metals being lengthened out by hammering. It was used of cutting down trees in the pathway of an advancing army. They literally hacked their way forward.
That’s the word here. And I say all of that because we read verse 52 – And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men and we say, “Well, of course . . . what do you expect; I mean, how easy can it be for Him?”
But the opposite was true!
Because of Who He was, His advancement was a billion times more difficult as a human being than any of our advancements could ever be.
The relentless concentrated attack of demonic forces to try and cause Him to sin; the knowledge of His divine nature over time as He grew that would easily struggle under the limitations of humanity; the sensitivity of His perfect nature to the sinfulness of those around Him.
Jesus advanced like a ship in a storm; like a wood cutter swinging his axe until his muscles burned; He made headway like a runner determined to finish the race against heavy winds and pelting rain.
In other words, this verb – to increase – carries the idea of hard work; monotonous labor; every step forward was a moral or spiritual victory.
Just like you.
Let me ask you, has advancement in the Christian life ever come easy to you? Has demonstrating God’s word been easy for you?
Do you ever feel like you’re trying to walk with Christ but the wind never stops pushing hard against you?
Have you ever thought that growth in demonstrating grace was as slow as cutting down a forest of trees would be? And you’ve looked up at those massive trees and said, “Are you kidding?”
Jesus Christ would understand the challenge. He’s just like you – and me – 100% human.
Now I’m aware that to talk of Him like this – for those who don’t know me well, they might believe I’m degrading the Savior. We just don’t take the time to explore the verbs and the texts related to His incarnation.
But when you do, they do not denigrate the Savior they cause you to delight in the Savior.
He understands what it means to grow in wisdom and grace against the normal resistance of the human condition with all its weaknesses.
And in the Garden He will weep with loud tears and crying (Hebrews 5:7) “Father, if there’s another way to accomplish this without the cross, please do it.” (Mark 14:36)
He was speaking as a man – He was crying as a man; he was sweating blood in utter dismay as a man.
But He pressed on. And He has forged a path to follow – He is the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
For every believer, Jesus Christ the man, has shown us that advancement is possible, but we must bend our will to the Father’s will. We must be willing like surrendered metal to be hammered by the smith; we must swing the axe of the woodsman; like a runner, we must face the wind and run on.
Now, legend can’t stand the thought of this kind of talk.
Surely, the scriptures can’t imply that Christ and his parents had anything but smooth sailing.
Just look at the great medieval paintings, commissioned by the church as they paint “the Virgin and her child seated on stately thrones, upon floors of splendid mosaic patterns, under gentle canopies of blue and gold; they are clothed in rich colors and the edges of their robes are embroidered with gold.
One apocryphal writing said that Jesus (the young boy) assembled the boys in his village; they put their garments on the ground and He sat upon them. Then they put on His head a crown wreathed of flowers, and, like attendants waiting upon a king, they stood in order before Him on His right hand and on His left. And whoever passed that way the boys took by force, crying, ‘Come hither and adore the King, and then proceed upon thy way.’
Nothing could be further from the truth – nobody was bowing before Jesus. Joseph and Mary didn’t live under canopies of blue and gold and their floor was dirt, not mosaic designs.
They moved into the insignificant village of Nazareth and lived their lives as simple, hardworking, poor peasants with little to call their own and when Jesus ended His ministry He owned nothing then either.
And at the age of 30, when he preached his first sermon in Nazareth,everybody effectively said, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Who does He think He is?” (Matthew 13:55)
Nobody said, “We knew it!”
“We knew he wasn’t just a normal boy growing up in our village. I mean, we knew he was responsible and obedient and loved the Synagogue and his studies . . . but God . . . the anointed Messiah? C’mon . . . he must have hit his head in the carpenter’s shop once too many!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, the truth is, Jesus’ life was so normal, so uneventful, so typical, so humble, so non-descript that when He made His announcement, no one believed Him.
But all the while, without anyone really paying all that much attention – during those 18 years of solitude after His appearance in the temple at age 12 – Jesus evidently was making headway – he was progressing in what I’ll outline as 4 different aspects – aspects that we also are challenged with today – and every day.
We’ll call the first progression,
- Intellectual ability:
Luke writes that Jesus kept increasing in wisdom – sophia (sofia)
Sophia, for the believer, is the appropriate application of God’s truth to life’s circumstances; it is God’s word demonstrated.
So, for Christ to increase in wisdom would mean that he would need to increase in knowledge – primarily of God’s word.
Along the way, Jesus had to learn that 2 + 2 = 4. He had to learn to read and to write.
But most importantly, He had to learn the sacred writings of the Old Testament.
During the days of Christ – in fact, for centuries before His birth and after His birth – a Jewish child’s education began in the home. His parents were his first teachers.
They were to teach Jesus and the other siblings when they sat down in the house to talk or eat; when they were outside walking or working; even as they prepared to lie down and then when they got up. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
Their lives were bibliocentric. God was the center of their lives and their conversations included Him.
Around the age of 5 or 6, a Jewish child was sent to school – to the House of the Book, so it was called. The school was attached to the local synagogue; every village had their synagogue according to the law, and every synagogue had its school. / David Smith, The Days of His Flesh: The Earthly Life of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Harper & Brothers, 1913), p. 20
Edersheim’s classic work on the life and times of Jesus the Messiah revealed that great care was taken not to send a child too early to school, nor to overwork him when there – [Oh that my school had felt the same way] History records for us, the school-hours were fixed and attendance shortened during the summer-months. / Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Eerdmans, 1967), p. 232
The teacher was often seated on a small elevation or platform, while the students at around them on the floor. This explains the verse in Acts 2:3 where Paul was educated at the feet of Gamaliel. / Smith, p. 20
For the first five years of a child’s studies, the Old Testament was the chief textbook. They would be taught to read and write their common language, Aramaic, but more importantly, the language of their law – the Hebrew language.
For those of you who learned the Hebrew language, you may have found, as I did, that it was a most difficult language to learn.
I was at the mall this past week with my kids, continuing our tradition of buying each other things they actually wanted, as well as picking up gifts for their mother that would be surprises for her. At one point, we walked past one of those merchant booths that are set up in the middle of the main aisle – a woman handed me a trey with little plastic cups filled with some kind of lotion. She invited me to try some. Her accent was unusual, so I stopped and asked her what was her native tongue? She responded, “It’s a mixture of Russian and Hebrew.” She was a Jewess who was raised in Russia and also lived in Israel. I told her that I wished I knew my Hebrew better so that we could talk in her native tongue. Then I invited her here to our church.
Imagine, someone coming to Cary by way of Russia and Israel.
For the Jews living in Jesus’ day, it was just as convoluted. They had lost their native tongue, having learned to speak Aramaic in Babylon where Aramaic was the official language. / Everett F. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ (Eerdmans, 1975), p. 59
Their sons, primarily, had to be taught Hebrew – and for those men who were destined to teach the scriptures had to learn to read and write Hebrew.
When our Lord delivered his first sermon in that synagogue in Nazareth, he first read from the Hebrew scroll of Isaiah. He had indeed learned His Hebrew well.
In my studies, I also discovered that when a 5 year old began his studies at the House of the Book, his very first lesson, according to their custom, was to begin, and carefully learn the Book of Leviticus. / Edersheim, p. 232
Then they went through other parts of the Pentateuch (the first five Books of the Old Testament) and then on to the Prophets.
When I learned that Jesus as a 5 year old would have taken up His first study in the Book of Leviticus, I immediately turned to see it in light of His eyes and His mission.
Leviticus begins with these words, God called Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting: "Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, When anyone presents an offering to God, present an animal from either the herd or the flock. If the offering is a Whole-Burnt-Offering from the herd, present a male without a defect at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting that it may be accepted by God. Lay your hand on the head of the Whole-Burnt-Offering so that it may be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. . .”
Imagine, Jesus Christ’s first school lesson was on the unblemished sacrifice for the atonement and forgiveness of the sinful human race.
Jesus advanced, according to Luke’s account, in intellectual capacity and ability.
Secondly, Jesus advanced in:
- Physical maturity:
Luke writes in verse 52 of chapter 2, that Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature – you could render this age or even height.
In other words, he followed a normal progression and pattern in physical growth.
Just as He matured intellectually, He matured physically like any normal Jewish young man.
He would enter puberty – his voice would crack and his face
Like any normal boy, He would have been mystified at the changes in His body and proud of the peach fuzz on his upper lip; He would flex his muscles for His half-sisters and he’d wrestle and race His half-brothers.
He would compete in the village games and describe with excitement a fish he’d caught.
Now, part of growing physically meant more and more responsibility.
All male Jews – even the doctors of the law – were expected to learn a trade. / Donald Guthrie, Jesus the Messiah (Zondervan, 1972), p. 34
In fact, it was required that every Jewish father teach his son what the Rabbis called an “honest craft, for to fail in this is to teach him robbery – or crime.”
The Apostle Paul, although preparing to become a Rabbi had also learned the craft of tent-making – more than likely, his father’s occupation. / Smith, p. 21
So Jesus was taught carpentry . . . this was the craft of His step-father. Jesus learned to size up a piece of wood, to cut and shape and craft.
For carpenters in Nazareth, their chief task would have been to carve plows for oxen to pull and yokes for their harness.
Can you imagine? Slip into His sandals. You know now Who you are and where You’re heading – the throne of God the Father and the splendor of Heaven which you only recently left.
For 18 years he dropped sweat over that plank of wood as he sawed and sanded and nailed . . . no one’s looking – why not twinkle His nose or snap His fingers and walaa . . . there’s the finished yoke . . . the polished table or bench.
Imagine the business He could have cranked out for the family.
Why sweat it out?
Because He had chosen to humble Himself and become a man – accepting the limitations of mankind and working within them he labored for 18 years in a tiny shop, taking hours to make things He could have commanded in an instant – never complaining, never saying, “Enough of these limitations.”
Not one act or word or miraculous sign until His hour arrived. And only then did He perform miracles for the benefit of others.
Was He a good carpenter? Justin Martyr, the second century church leader in Galilee made the interesting statement that farmers were still using plows and yokes for the oxen that had been carefully crafted by Jesus Christ – 75 years earlier.
Jesus Christ was growing up – and the demonstration of His integrity was found in the quality of the plow he shaped with His hands.
Jesus increased in mental ability;
Jesus increased physical maturity;
Third, Jesus increased in:
- Spiritual intimacy:
Luke writes, Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God . . .
That translation can be misleading to an English student. Cults use this verse as a proof text that as Jesus grew up, He became more and more a favorite of God – just a man who lived such an exemplary life that God decided to grant Him a favored position among men. / G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Luke (Fleming H. Revell, 1931), p. 46
Never mind that being the favorite of God the Father would lead Him to abandon Jesus on the cross and watch Him die a slow, tortuous death.
The word favor is charis (caris) – translated grace. The next word in the Greek text is the word para – alongside of.
We use this word for parachurch ministry. It isn’t a ministry directly related to the church, but a ministry alongside the church.
So Jesus wasn’t gaining grace from God over time.
You could translate this phrase, Jesus grew in grace alongside of – or by the side of – God.
In other words, the relationship between Jesus, the Son of God, and God the Father was a growing relationship marked by grace.
It was customary for Jesus to pull away from the crowd so that He could talk to His father in prayer. As Jesus grew older, His relationship with God the Father grew more important and even more intimate.
Christ here reflects the believer’s desire – and He reveals our failure. But He also models our future – perfect fellowship witht eh Father; eternally unbroken; unselfish, uncluttered, unending transparent intimacy with God our Father one day.
One more aspect of growth; Jesus not only grew in mental ability and physical maturity and spiritual intimacy;
- Fourthly, He increased in social integrity:
Luke writes, Jesus grew in favor with man.
Again, this doesn’t mean that He grew more popular with people. In fact, the truth is just the opposite.
I found it fascinating that Luke chapter 4 records that signature moment when the Lord begins His ministry and He will read from Isaiah and deliver His first sermon in His hometown of Nazareth.
And in His sermon He will see through the pride and stubborn refusal of his closest friends and associates and clients to follow Him as the prophet of God and He convicts them with His words.
The people in the synagogue become so infuriated that when Jesus finishes his sermon they throw Him out of the synagogue and lead him to the top of a hill where they are gonna push Him off – but He slipped out of their hands – implied, miraculously.
He could have snapped His fingers and Nazareth would have gone up in a mushroom cloud.
He grew up there . . . He knew them . . . they knew He’d never done any of them wrong.
But now that He announces His Messianic claim, they of all people try to kill Him . . .
He slips away . . . what grace!
He grew in His graciousness alongside of people’s offensive behavior and He withheld His judgment and power and submitted to the agony of the cross as He dies alone, fulfilling Leviticus chapter 1 and beyond – His very first lessons in school as He the unblemished Lamb dies to atone for the sin of the world.
Well, I wish we had more information about the boyhood of Jesus – His life during those formative years in Nazareth.
If you could have interviewed Joseph what would you have asked him?
I’d ask him . . . did you know? What were the clues? How did you treat Jesus and his half-brothers and sisters that you and Mary had later on. Whenever there was an argument – did you know that Jesus was not going to be guilty of wrong doing?
How did you handle the other boys complaining, “You never get on to Jesus . . . how come he never gets a spanking?”
By the way, I might ask him if he ever gave Jesus a spanking.
Did you think about that question?
I’ll give you my best guess. I personally believe Jesus got a spanking or two growing up.
The Old Testament clearly prescribed corporeal punishment.
But (!) I believe Jesus experienced the rod, but not because He was imperfect – but because Joseph was imperfect.
He got it wrong.
We were sitting around the dinner table the other day – all our kids are home from school – our twin sons almost 24, our daughters 22 and 16. I asked them, “Did I ever give you guys a spanking growing up that you didn’t deserve?” And my sons, without hesitation, said, “Oh yes!”
Not a moment’s hesitation!
They’re right . . . and I certainly admit there were many times when I got it wrong.
I can remember as an 11-12 year old sitting in the black overstuffed chair in our living room of our boyhood home where my 3 brothers and I grew up. We were supposed to be doing our homework, which I normally enjoyed! But it was around Halloween and we had gotten a really scary mask that I was playing with while I sat there. My mother took it away and put it in the closet and said, “Don’t play with that until you’ve finished your homework.”
A few minutes later, one of my younger brothers went down and got that mask back out. He came up to where I was – I told him, “You’re gonna get in big trouble if Mom sees you with that.” He laughed and kept playing around. Suddenly we both heard Mom’s footsteps on the stairway – my brother threw the mask in my lap and ran around the corner. She came down, saw the mask, yanked me up out of that chair and before I could defend myself, or quote scripture, or anything, I got an undeserved spanking.
Can you imagine being Joseph? Did he ever get it wrong?
I personally believe he felt deeply his own inadequacies.
Imagine being given the assignment of teaching the written word to the living Word. Imagine referring to prophecies of scripture to a little boy who was the One of whom the prophets had spoken.
That’s like God saying to me in a dream, “Stephen, I am going to give you and Marsha a son and he will be the world’s greatest scientist who will discover mathematical and scientific formulas that will open the way for new civilizations to prosper; and it’s your responsibility as his father to prepare him in those early years for his future calling.”
I would wake up and call that a nightmare.
Listen, God effectively told a carpenter, not a doctor of the law; a migrant worker – I want you to teach the One who will become the world’s greatest teacher.
I personally believe Joseph felt what every parent feels anyway – someone else would have done a much better job.
Why not Joseph of Arimathea? He lived during the same time. He was wealthy, had access to tutors. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme court. He loved the law and he was a righteous man and he was looking for the kingdom of God.
Did the stork get the address wrong?
Joseph of Arimathea, not Joseph of Nazareth.
If you could have interviewed Mary and asked her, were you up to this task? She would have said, “Are you kidding?”
Read your Bible, it says the angel came to a virgin – not a saint; or a princess or a woman perfectly suited to raise the Messiah.
In fact, her first recorded words to 12 year old Jesus were an ill timed, undeserved, unwise scolding of Jesus.
But what great news.
If God would choose 2 people to parent the Messiah, God can use us too.
And whom has He chosen in this age? Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and I’ll paraphrase: “Consider your calling – consider the place where God has appointed you – God didn’t choose among the brilliant . . . not many with noble upbringing . . . not many with powerful connections . . . He has chosen the ordinary students to teach the brilliant; He has chosen the weak and insignificant people in the eyes of the world to radically impact those who seem to be on top of it all. (1 Corinthians 1:25-26)
Mary and Joseph are you ready for this? I love the words of the songwriter . . .
Mary did you know that your little boy
Will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy,
Will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered
Will soon deliver you
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
|Has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God
The blind will see, the deaf will hear
And the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy,
Will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the ‘Great I Am’.
Lyrics by Mark Lowry, Copyright Word Music, LLC
Having studied more carefully than I ever have before the boyhood of Jesus, I can say with some certainty that Mary didn’t know . . . at least not fully. Nor did Joseph. The boyhood of Jesus was a mystery to them both.
They were unlikely candidates to parent the perfect child.
The truth is, apart from the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, we all are unlikely candidates to accomplish whatever it is that God has called us – appointed us – to accomplish.
And of all the things we might want to accomplish . . . these four advancements, verse 52 of Luke chapter 2 would be a terrific place to focus more attention and energy and prayer:
- That we also might develop our understanding and application of God’s word;
- That we might also grow up and accept the responsibilities of wherever God has placed us;
- That we might walk alongside of God our Father;
- And that we might demonstrate grace and integrity to those who live around us.